Sourav Ganguly, the under-performing Pune Warriors captain, sat out of the game; Steven Smith took over the leadership; and the hosts made as many as five changes to their XI in an attempt to avert a seventh consecutive defeat. None of it dowsed the powder keg that is the Royal Challengers Bangalore batting line-up, though. Chris Gayle launched half a dozen deliveries into the crowd; Tillakaratne Dilshan anchored the innings and then accelerated it; and even Saurabh Tiwary converted an iffy start into a useful performance. A total of 173 was much too large for Pune Warriors' misfiring batsmen.
The chase was severely damaged in the first over, when Zaheer Khan struck twice, and almost certainly done for in the fourth, when Michael Clarke was dismissed. Warriors were 22 for three. The Royal Challengers bowling has struggled this season - they are the most expensive unit - and tonight's performance, albeit against a weak opponent, would have lifted them. Nine is the most wickets they've taken in an innings this season. Virat Kohli's side steamed past Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians to No. 3 in the league.
There had been rain before the toss but the shower after it was the one that delayed the start by an hour. The strong crowd stayed patient, though, and when play finally began, they were thoroughly entertained. By Gayle. He began carefully, playing three consecutive dots in debutant medium-pacer Krishnakant Upadhyay's first over. Having sussed the rookie, Gayle bookended Upadhyay's second over with long-arm sixes over extra cover and midwicket.
Gayle barely ran. Of his 31 balls, 13 were dots and nine were singles. There were no twos or threes. When he hit the ball along the ground it was brutally hard to the fielders. In the sixth over, Gayle destroyed Bhuveneshwar Kumar with four sixes - straight, midwicket, long-on and long-off. He got to his half-century in 24 balls, his quickest this season. Royal Challengers were 66 for 0 at the time and Dilshan's contribution was 11 off 13 deliveries.
Only Angelo Mathews kept Gayle quiet. After conceding three runs in his first over, Mathews had Gayle caught on the long-on boundary in his second. Mathews would finish with figures of 1 for 14 in three overs.
Warriors began to fight after Gayle's dismissal, the next 27 balls cost only 19 runs and produced Kohli's wicket. Royal Challengers' acceleration, however, resumed in the 14th over, when Dilshan and Tiwary, promoted ahead of de Villiers, scored 16. Dilshan then took a hat-trick of fours off Upadhyay.
At one point it seemed Tiwary would stagnate and de Villiers might not get to bat. Tiwary, however, began to muscle boundaries and Dilshan's dismissal for 53 brought de Villiers to the crease. After three quiet balls, he launched the final one of the innings over the straight boundary.
Ganguly's replacement, Mohnish Mishra launched the chase by driving his third ball past mid-off for four. He was trapped lbw by Zaheer Khan with the next. Zaheer then handed Manish Pandey his fourth duck of the season with one that straightened off the pitch from round the wicket and uprooted the off stump. Clarke and Gayle use the same bat-maker but Clarke's attempt at clearing the boundary ended in deep midwicket's hands. Warriors were floundering.
Robin Uthappa has had an indifferent tournament for someone who takes home $2.1 million a season, but he sparkled today. Unfortunately for Warriors, it was just that - a sparkle. They needed a searing furnace.